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Electronic health records

Alberta to create patient eHealth portal

EDMONTON – Alberta plans to become the first province in Canada to allow consumers to access their own health record, with a web portal for this purpose that’s expected to be up and running within a few months.

According to the Globe and Mail newspaper, the Alberta government will start slowly at first, offering a limited amount of information, such as vaccination records. But the ultimate goal is to post everything, including prescriptions, X-rays and laboratory test results.

Mark Brisson, executive director of information management for Alberta Health, said the budget for the web portal is still being finalized. The site is expected to also include educational information on various topics, including nutrition.

He said Alberta spent months researching whether residents of the debt-free province would even want or use the technology. “Anecdotally, you hear, ‘I’d like to see my health information,’ but really, is that the case? These are not inexpensive exercises to put out that type of infrastructure.”

Currently, if people in Alberta want to see their personal medical information, they must make a formal request with their healthcare provider. Mr. Brisson said addressing security and privacy concerns will be paramount as the province builds the new e-health service. He’s hopeful that “an incremental approach” will not only build up confidence but also usage.

Brisson said Alberta is in a position to take this step because it’s already put the infrastructure in place with Alberta Wellnet, an overarching electronic health record system that is fed information from hospitals and other care-givers around the province.

Other provinces have similar efforts under way, but none is a far along as Alberta. The projects are massive undertakings, in terms of technical requirements, the cooperation that’s required, and the governance issues that go along with them.

While most hospitals now have electronic systems, getting the myriad systems to interchange information in a meaningful way can be challenging. Moreover, the vast majority of primary care physicians are still using paper charts – according to recent studies, only 26% of Canadian physicians have an EMR, and fewer actually make regular use of them.

As a result, most patient records are inaccessible even to their caregivers, as the records are scattered about various offices, either in paper charts or incompatible electronic formats.

Trevor Hodge, senior vice-president of Canada Health Infoway, said Alberta is ready to make patient records more accessible because it started a lot earlier than most provinces and has a well-funded system. He added that the government’s decision to go slowly on the patient portal is a sound one.“It’s not going to be something where you just turn on a switch and everything will happen. It’s an evolution that’s happening.”

While Alberta will be the first province to offer personal health information online, there are some hospitals across the country that allow patients to access their electronic medical records. Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, in Toronto, is a pioneer in this area with a system called MyChart.

Ontario also recently announced a plan to set up a $150-million online diabetes registry to help patients better manage their disease.

Mr. Hodge said it’s inevitable that all Canadians will one day be able to sit at a computer and view their personal health information. The e-service will be particularly helpful for people with chronic conditions, he added. “It won’t be that 30 million Canadians will want to access it every day, but there is a good sub-segment of the population who will.”